There’s a scene in Crocodile Dundee Two (I know, I know but stay with me here) in which Dundee, wearing his ridiculous croc tooth-adorned Akubra indoors, casually gropes a woman’s genitals, to confirm she is, in fact, a woman. His love interest Sue explains to the shocked woman, by way of an apology, “it’s ok, he’s Australian”.
Aside from the rank transphobia of this scene, what is evident from the uncouth antipodean act is that mainstream Australian masculinity defines itself by what it is not. The so-called ‘other’. In this case, the queer female other. Out of his comfort zone in what is arguably a feminine space, this icon of Australiana shows the world where women sit in the social hierarchy. On the receiving end of his groping paws.
Women have not been welcomed in places where mateship thrived: the pub, the trenches, even right back to (white Australia’s) colonial beginnings. But women were there. Women were in the ladies’ lounge at the pub (or else at home with the children. Hopefully not in the car outside). They participated in WW1 and WW2 as nurses and medics and built munitions in factories back home. Women just didn’t make it into the narrative.
Historical documents recorded the word ‘mate’ being used by male convicts as way of addressing prison guards to bring them down a peg. And where were female convicts in all of this? Yes they did exist (although I literally just had to google this – thanks public school education, very comprehensive).
Most of the Women in the colonies were sent there for petty, non-violent crimes. As well as the harsh conditions and physical labour faced by male convicts, they also had to contend with the constant threat of sexual assault and rape with no legal protections. Many of them resorted to selling sex for survival as there were few jobs for women once their sentences were served.
These same historical documents, often letters from high ranking officers, describe convict women, basically, as whores. Mateship did not extend to these women. It is theorized they were sent mainly to keep the men in the colonies sedate and pliable. What a shit sentence. Those women just become my personal heroes.
In modern day Australia, who specifically is included when we say ‘mate’? and who is excluded?
Come back next week for Part 3 of this post…